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The Merger (Evolution)

The period between the world wars was difficult for Unitarians and for Universalism. Universalists , in particular, were suspicious of centralized power, which made it difficult to mount any unified action. Sociologically, the migration to the cities and the west left many town and village churches without enough members to sustain them. And theologically, the uniqueness of the movement s were undermined as the mainline denominations approached a more liberal view on damnation, which had historically separated Universalists from other Christians. By the mid-1930s, Universalists, like their Unitarian cousins, were weak and in disarray.

But a lasting impetus in both denominations to create a more just society prevailed. Both Unitarians and Universalists became active participants in many social justice movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker was a prominent abolitionist, defending fugitive slaves and offering support to American abolitionist John Brown.

By the middle of the twentieth century it became clear that Unitarians and Universalists could have a stronger liberal religious voice if they merged their efforts, and they did so in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association. Many Unitarian Universalists (UUs) became active in the civil rights movement. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was murdered in Selma, Alabama, after he and twenty percent of the denomination’s ministers responded to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call to march for justice.

To accomplish the merger they overcame differences such as

  • Both had roots in England, but the Unitarians came from upper-middle class stock, and the Universalists tended to be from rural areas and were less well educated.

  • Their worship styles were different, too, the Unitarians tending toward the cool and intellectual, while the Universalists were warm and emotive.

  • Unitarians had a strong emphasis on reason and learning. Congregants tended to be highly educated and love ideas.

  • Universalists wanted to explore emotional and spiritual depths, to be whole persons, generous and loving and ever more inclusive.

But: Nevertheless, the two groups had much in common. Most significantly, each was a free faith, with no creed, and both had a strong policy of congregational autonomy. The merger was a practical move to strengthen two small denominations that had limited resources. Long in coming, it was the right way to go, not only for pragmatic reasons, but because each faith continues to teach and strengthen the other.

Today, considering population growth, we’re not much bigger than we were 50 years ago, for only 0.3 percent of American adults identify as Unitarian Universalists. But we are influential far beyond our numbers, because we are found at the edge of change, wherever change is needed. We are informed, and we are passionate, heartful people. We are Unitarian Universalists, and we belong together.

Above information was taken from:

Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith by Mark Harrison from the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1996-2017

Marilyn Sewell, Unitarian Univeralist minister, writer, Huffunigton Post:THE BLOG06/13/2011 02:41 pm ET|Updated Aug 13, 2011

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